An Olympic Story…


Taryn O'NeillWhere we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.” –Joseph Campbell

Four years ago I was privileged to spend 17 days in my hometown of Vancouver during the 2010 Olympic Games. I tweeted and blogged my way through every skating event, countless curling and hockey matches, marveled at the speed skating and even bussed my way up to Whistler to watch the slalom. I went to the Opening Ceremonies and cried joyfully with my fellow Canadians in a local bar when we won the hockey gold (tickets were 10 grand!?!). I made a cheesy video of all our adventures for my family; it still brings tears to my eyes when I watch it.

Now that the Olympics have returned into our orbit with Sochi 2014, we once again find ourselves glued to the TV (and more than ever, Twitter) rooting for athletes we have ‘just met’. So, I thought I should share a post I wrote after returning from Vancouver 2010, where I reveled in the link between The Games, its Athletes and our careers as STORYTELLERS. ….

Hope you enjoy:

Collective joy and the hero’s journey.

For those of you who are already Joseph Campbell fans, you’re very familiar with the latter term. But for those of you who aren’t: it is the journey (often implying a struggle) which a person undertakes in their life to achieve something bigger than the success or happiness of one’s self. The athletes in Vancouver were jumping, racing, and skating not just for themselves but for their families, their coaches, their sport and their country. The Olympics (in it’s purest form) is a shiny media vehicle that brings the hero’s journey to a worldwide audience. The most famous narrative arc is manifested on television for 17 days straight. And a strange thing begins to happen, collective joy begins to seep into the collective. I witnessed this personally —  whether at a bar, a stadium, or on the streets. I witnessed people discovering a community that they had forgotten they were a part of.

I’m going to make a big leap and say that celebrities have taken over the narrative from the hero and that we are a poorer society for it.

When we look at celebrities, we don’t see achievement…we just see fame. Fame doesn’t necessarily mean talent, and fame can be achieved (and I use that term loosely). Once someone is deemed a celebrity by the media, they are effectively placed in a walled garden where the general populous can only look but not touch.  Regardless, there is nothing of substance to connect to.  The mainstream media may report on how the new celeb battled an adversity to reach their fame, but it’s only hearsay; we the community never witnessed this journey first hand, only interpretations of. Because we, the collective audience, don’t see the journey that the person took to achieve celebrity, we didn’t see the work, or the struggle, or the competition (perhaps because there wasn’t any, just luck or nepotism), how can they be a hero?  No wonder society is so secretly eager and curious to see celebrities fall from grace- this is the only part of the journey we can actually be a part of.

Have we lost touch with the idea that something can be earned and achieved if you work harder than you think possible, struggle against the odds, pour your heart and soul into your passion, sacrifice, realize that you are doing it not just for yourself but for your family, your friends, your community, and the greater good? As Joseph Campbell said to Bill Moyers, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than one’s self”.

“There are two types of deed. One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous act in battle or saves a life. The other kind is the spiritual deed, which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message” (Campbell). These Olympic athletes did both and so brought together communities and countries.

What is different for me then, now that I have returned to my ‘regular life’ devoid of security lines, ice rinks and podiums? How has this experience colored my own unique goals? I believe even more strongly that people want to feel a part of something, people want to feel PART of the story, not just be passive observers. People may want to look at the pretty, the glossy, the skinny in the pages of a tabloid rag at the nail salon, but they will invest in something more heroic- they WANT to be moved.

When it comes to the community that I am a part of (the web content creators community) what does that lead me to say? Tell the hero’s journey and BE the hero’s journey. We are already undertaking the latter (even if we don’t know it) with the amount of personal struggle we go through to survive in this space. We are laying the framework and foundation for a future generation with our blood, sweat and tears- so share it, teach it, document it, and RECOGNIZE IT. And when writing and creating your content, don’t ever forget that people just want to connect with the character’s journey. We strive to make our series interactive, strive to make it slick, to make it funny, when we should primarily strive to make it human.

I can’t remember who said this (I think it might have been Michael Caine), but if I could only chose one rule that I act (and now write) by it is this: “the more personal it is, the more universal it is”. This is what I witnessed for 17 days in Vancouver this past February and this is what I strive to bring to my work today.

“The heroes’ sphere of action is not the transcendent but here, now, in the field of time, of good and evil.” Joseph Campbell